RNAi-Enabled Biological Fungicides

This research is primarily centered around utilizing RNA interference (RNAi) as a biological strategy to manage fruit rot diseases, such as grey mold, and to comprehend its broader ramifications on the agricultural ecosystem. Additionally, we express interest in exploring the potential of exogenous dsRNA to modify traits of commercial value in plants.

Our research goals bifurcate into two main categories. Firstly, we aim to devise and evaluate RNAi-driven biological fungicides for the management of fruit rot diseases. Secondly, we strive to elucidate the broader effects of exogenous dsRNA applications on the agricultural ecosystem, including potential influences on beneficial microbes, biological control agents, and soil microbiota. An equally important, albeit secondary, objective is to investigate the potential of dsRNA applications in modifying traits of commercial value in plants.

Our research harnesses RNAi technologies that exploit the natural gene silencing mechanism found in eukaryotes. This entails the processing of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) molecules into small-interfering RNAs that bind to target mRNAs and instigate their degradation via the cellular machinery of the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC)

The two main RNAi strategies for disease management are: Plant-Incorporated Protectants (PIP) and Spray-Induced Gene Silencing (SIGS). PIP involves the genetic engineering of plants to produce dsRNAs, a process also known as Host-Induced Gene Silencing (HIGS). However, due to technical obstacles, public apprehension, and regulatory challenges linked with genetically modified (GM) plants, we probe into SIGS, which doesn't necessitate transgenic alterations to plants or target organisms.

SIGS entails the exogenous application of dsRNA, necessitating the development of efficient production and delivery techniques to overcome technical barriers such as high production costs and low field stability of dsRNA. In addition to our in-house methods for production of dsRNA, we collaborate with AgroSpheres Inc. and the University of Virginia to produce and evaluate minicells-encapsulated dsRNA formulations.

Our research methods involve both in vitro studies and greenhouse-grown plant experiments to assess the efficacy of dsRNA formulations in impeding fungal growth and halting disease progression. Concurrently, we also evaluate the non-target effects of dsRNA on beneficial microbes, biological control agents, and soil microbiota. We're also in the early stages of research into the potential use of exogenous dsRNA applications to modify commercially valuable plant traits.

In conclusion, our research aspires to leverage RNAi technologies for efficient crop protection strategies and evaluate the broader implications of dsRNA applications in the agricultural system, thereby contributing to the resilience and sustainability of the global tree fruit industry.

Research Projects